by Donna Sealy
Adrian “Boo” Husbands is a man of many talents.
He is a musician, tent manager, and MC, who, though humourous, sees the need for change as no laughing matter.
With Headliners Tent from its inception, he has been there as it went through changes in sponsors and acts.
“My first tent was in Battleground and then I played in various tents including Untouchables and one or two others but then we went back to Bacchanal Time in some strange arrangement.
“When Untouchables fold up, me and Bag decided to come together because I does sing a little but too, I sang a year in Untouchables and judged, but I went in as a musician. Me and Bag used to talk every morning […] and we felt that the demise of Untouchables was tragic and we felt that something had to be done and a place needed to be found for those men who were out and not singing.
“We talked to some men and started moving from there and then by a miracle almost we butt up on Virgin Atlantic who had no idea about tents and Crop-Over as they had now come, but we were able to convince them to get involved and they brought a whole set of different standards to the whole thing,” he said.
Husbands noted those standards included delivering on promises, and noted that not starting on time was “a big thing” and they would have been penalised.
“They were so vigilant. They would make sure that the standard of everything associated with the tent was high. They used to check things like the bar, the quality of the food, the cleanliness of the washrooms, and after every tent you would have to sit and have a post mortem with them in the first couple of years. There was a lady called Judith Wilcox and then Rachel, they were very, very kind to us in terms of sponsorship and give-aways and so on, but they were also very strict because they had that Virgin Atlantic brand that as long as they were putting it onto something they had to make sure that everything about that thing was correct.
“In the early years we didn’t have a challenge with sponsorship at all so we were able to do the 10 and 11 shows in a season and the standard of calypso was a lot higher than it is now. We had the headliners and hence the name — the name is not really quite apt as we speak, but that’s how it was. That relationship lasted about five years,” he said.
Husbands noted that over the years the levels of sponsorship had declined and also the attendance to tents, which can be attributed to the emergence “of a lot of other activities around Crop-Over”.
“Back then when the tent done that was it there was no place to go unless someone was having a little lime. But now you have a lot of events that started as free events and in our case we have been able to produce the cr?me de la cr?me of the party side, the sweet soca and the party side, but traditionally the people who come to tents don’t really come for that.
“They come to hear social commentary, we’ve been lacking in social commentary over the last couple of years and I think that’s where we run into a problem in terms of attendance. But the quality of the tent is always high, the quality of musicianship is always high and we always put on a good show,” he said.
Husbands, who was involved in the festival from the 1980s when he started out playing a trombone in Battleground, said in spite of this quality of the show, things had to change.
“I don’t delegate well, I do delegate, but I always like to keep a reign on things so I think 2012 is the last year that I will really be [in the forefront]… Roxanne Forte, she has been there as tent manager for a couple of years, but she’s been there from the very beginning and Pat Hope, Derek Joseph, and over the last couple of years, Blood as well. They’ve always been part of the team, and we have a good team but I think it’s time now for some of people out there who seem to have the connections in the sponsorship world to step forward and help the tent to survive if not it’s not going to survive.
“It needs an injection of sponsorship, but I think that the product also needs to be looked at very carefully if you want to survive as a calypso tent. The roles have to change, some of the faces have to change as well and there has to be more commentary,” he asserted.
He is ready to sit with the members of the management team and chart a new course, and “explore whatever opportunities they are out there that put us in a better position to survive as a business and also provide the service we want to provide to the public”.
This could include fents.
“The concept of the fent came up because of the product that we had. So you try to create the best of the opportunity that you have, given the resources that you have. So if we got the best people involved out there in the fete arena, hence we needed to shift our attention slightly from inviting people to come and listen to commentary towards coming and enjoying a good fete in a tent environment, in a tent setting that’s where it came from.
“[The fent] would catch on. It’s a work in progress but you’ve also got the other issues to look at, market dynamics issues. If you’ve got the best people in the party, in your fent, they’re also in every other fete in the country, two and three a night. So therefore the demand to see them at you is not as great as the demand to see a social commentator because that’s the only place he will be because he can’t be in the fete. I’m thinking that Crop-Over’s suffering from too many tents …” he said.
“When a tent judges, chances are its done you know. Look at some of these tents that ain’t got in nobody in [competitions]. You really feel that anybody going back to hear them? Some people only go judging night, that’s been our experience. So you get significant losses and the only night you’re really making a profit is judging night but it ain’t really a profit because it had to cover some of the loss nights.
“So that whole thing needs to be relooked and the other problem with Crop-Over and sponsorship is this: I think sponsors’ main interest in Crop-Over is mileage for their money, increased visibility but most importantly, increased sales. So when a tent had 10 night or 11 nights they were guaranteed 11 nights of exposure now that the thing shut up, the NCF reduced what they would call the subvention you no longer have the requirement of doing seven nights to qualify. You only need one. You need the judging night, . . . and the money’s cut in half to cover the judging night. So a sponsor ain’t really getting a lot of tents now. So they prefer to align themselves to particular artistes who might be out there performing 25 nights during the season, some artistes have 16 sponsors.
“So somewhere along the line we have to come to some arrangement as to how this situation is going to work because somewhere in there it doesn’t seem to make sense to me that a tent provides the forum for artists to go forward into the various competitions, because that’s what most people want to do and then they’ve got a responsibility to the sponsors of that individual as well as to the tent’s sponsors and in some instances, I can see conflicts of interest arising and it’s just a very odd situation to be in, it’s very odd,” Husbands noted.
As a tent manager and one of the people calling the shots, he has also had to double as an MC.
“I like music. I like being a musical director, outside the business every year since Headliners started and I’ve been around, I’ve been in charge of the rehearsing the band. I like that and I like being a comedian. I like talking [foolishness] and laughing. I like skinning my teet. We’ve had MCs in the tent. We’ve started with Andrew Pilgrim and Alff was a comedian in the tent but they were some nights Andrew couldn’t come and Alff would take over and in the big split, Alff went one way, we had Varia Williams as well …
“They’re some MCs who thrive on learning jokes and telling them and making people laugh or trying. They’re other MCs who are spontaneous who don’t really tell jokes but they keep on top of the audience — they know a few jokes but they’re more dramatist and actors than they are joke tellers. …
“I’m comfortable with the stage, I don’t have a problem with the stage at all… I have an arsenal of jokes but I can’t tell a cold joke. I have to set it up a kind of way with some interaction with somebody in the audience or something and then I can get it in. But I can’t walk out there and tell a cold joke like ‘my next joke gine be so and so and so and so’. I try to mix my emceeing with throwing in something like a serious comment every now and again and using the gift of language as well as the power of dialect and just try to be intelligent about everything you say and do,” said Husbands. [email protected]